LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama underscored his willingness to talk to leaders of countries like Iran that are considered U.S. adversaries but said that does not necessarily mean an audience with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Obama, the Democratic Party front-runner vying to face Republican Sen. John McCain in the November race for the White House, has said he was willing to meet with leaders of countries such as Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions.
But McCain has criticized that view, saying that sitting down with someone like Ahmadinejad would give the Iranian president a spotlight and send the wrong signal to U.S. allies such as Israel.
Iran does not recognize Israel’s existence and Ahmadinejad has called the country a “stinking corpse.”
Obama, an Illinois senator, said Iranian presidential elections in 2009 would be a factor in considering the timing of any meetings, as would considerations of who wields the power.
“There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power. He’s not the most powerful person in Iran,” Obama told reporters while campaigning in New Mexico.
Under Iran’s system of clerical rule, the Islamic Republic’s religious establishment has final say in all state matters.
Republicans have accused Obama of inconsistency because he and his aides have emphasized that, while there would be no “preconditions” for potential presidential meetings with adversaries, there would be extensive staff-level preparations.
In the case of Iran, Obama said, “Preparation means that there are low-level talks in which there’s clarity about our concerns around the nuclear weapons program but that we’re willing to listen to their perspective.”
“They claim that they don’t want to develop a weapons but it’s all for civilian use. I don’t believe them,” he said. “I think they are pursuing weapons. But that would be a topic of discussion and I would present evidence that would indicate to them there are other means of developing civilian nuclear capacity,” he said.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/